My information processing workflow stinks. Let me elaborate a bit.
I am a high throughput information worker. Peter Drucker originally articulated the idea of a “knowledge worker” in 1959, he was proposing a classification with the primary goal of describing the work of people who applied knowledge directly and in a unique way, to the tasks assigned to them. 1 An Information Worker is a person who uses the information to assist in making decisions or taking actions or a person who creates information that informs the decisions or actions of others. I think for a living and my primary capital is knowledge. As a result, I think out loud and use my digital spaces a was to show what, where, when, and how I’ve learned.
Throughput is the rate of production or the rate at which something is processed. I need to quickly acquire, evaluate, create, disseminate, and use multiple forms of information streams. I view this as the efficiency of information coming in my system and the content coming out the other end.
My information may come in from multiple formats using multiple tools. These systems need to be platform and device agnostic. I privilege mobile as I have my phone all of the time. I also use a PC at home, a Mac at work, and Chromebooks on the road. I’m slowly trying to work an iPad into my workflow as well.
I am also a social individual and like sharing my ideas and content openly online. This focus on open scholarship allows me to quickly connect with an online audience. I connect with multiple spaces and output content in multiple formats and communities online. I’m inspired by the work of others and use this to formulate my own ideas.
What’s the problem?
I primarily use the Internet and other communication tools, apply theoretical and analytical knowledge, and meld this with formal training to solve complex problems or develop new products or services in my fields of expertise. I study the intersections between literacy and technology and strive to make sense of living in an age of screentime.
I suggested at the start of this post that my workflow stinks. That is because my process, as an information worker, needs to be (IMHO) evaluated based on quality and not quantity. As an open scholar, I’m also rethinking my workflow as I think about the changing nature of the internet and the risk/reward of sharing my ideas openly online.
The good news is that I’m productive. I write a weekly newsletter that is approaching 400 issues. On this blog, I challenge myself to put out about 100 posts a year. I also have a bunch of publications and presentations for various audiences. Lastly, I use these materials as I teach classes, live my life, and parent my kids. All of these frames are interconnected.
To help frame the remainder of this discussion, I’ll focus on inputs and outputs in my work…and identify areas of loss. In a future post, I’ll discuss how I’m going to address these challenges.
I’ve spent many years developing a good stream of information to make sure that garbage in will not result in garbage out.
My inputs begin with websites and RSS feeds. This all is currently controlled by Feedly. If I find a source that I value, I add it to my Feedly reader. It’ll automatically serve me the new content from across all sources that I’ve saved. I work hard to make sure I have a mix of sources to provide viewpoints outside of my own, while also some areas for serendipity (a series of feeds focused on food, music, and art). Please note, I’ve built this RSS feed over a couple of decades and routinely edit the feeds. The tools I use to make this work, also frequently die-off (Google Reader), which tends to be a problem…but also helps me think about future-proofing my workflow.
My inputs also consist of a ton of social media content. This includes Facebook posts, Reddit content, Twitter threads, Slack content, and more.
I also consume a lot of research PDFs (pulled from Google Scholar), podcasts, YouTube videos, epubs (reading on Kindle), and voice notes as I have an “aha” moment (I save these as audio notes using Google Keep).
I also somewhat regularly use Hypothesis to annotate content as I read online. This is primarily for reading and reviewing web content or PDFs for classes. I wish it could mark up videos and/or audio content (podcasts).
As I identify specific sources I want to follow up on or do something with, I save them to a central location. In the past, this was Evernote. A little over a decade ago, I used Evernote to save everything to my “online, multimodal notebook.” The idea was that it was a place to dump everything…and process later.
I moved away from Evernote as the search became clunky and sluggish. The platform wasn’t updating, and I started to not want to be beholden to a company to host all of my content.
I then started building a digital commonplace book and using Pinboard to openly share a trail of content as I work online.
My basic workflow was to take tons of content in save the important stuff to Pinboard and the commonplace book (website) and then once a week sift this all into my weekly newsletter. There were multiple challenges as I openly share some of my output online.
As an Internet researcher, I spend a lot of time researching misinformation, disinformation, and all sorts of interesting corners of online and offline spaces. I’ve written about these in research pubs, blog posts, addressed them in classes and webinars. Strangely, none of this content received any response.
But, my bookmarks and associated blog posts on my commonplace books would result in a slew of individuals that wanted to push back on what they viewed as my thinking or support of some issue. Really, this was just a bookmark of some other website that I was saving for later. It wasn’t my idea, or even my thoughts about an idea.
As the Internet becomes more and more devoid of nuance in thought, I thought it would be better if I clean up my digital streams and not leave behind random tidbits of ideas that people/groups can use to manufacture outrage.
As I stated earlier, information workers gather, process, and analyze information by technological means. Efficient access to useful information should promote information worker productivity by facilitating faster, higher-quality content. I felt like my system was not conducive to deeper, high-quality thinking and content.
Yes, I was still publishing…a lot. But, I felt like something was missing. When I sat down to write, I was trying to pull together the seedlings of ideas I left behind. I felt like there was a lot left behind. Some of the areas I researched in the past were now lost in the flow. My “great ideas” or breakthroughs were lost as new ideas jumped into the fray.
Interestingly, what I felt that I needed (over the last couple of years) was a cross between my use of Evernote as a private space to think and archive, but with the look and feel of a wiki. I investigated a ton of open-source wiki tools that I could use not just to save notes, but also to look for commonalities and connections across spaces and ideas.
Ideas and information are the primary capital of the Knowledge Worker. Continuous learning and keeping myself and my processes updated are what allow me to increase value and authenticity. This requires constant learning but also the routine sharpening of saw as I consider the tools and processes I use.
As the future becomes more transitory and the one constant is change, mastering these skills and processes will hopefully allow for deeper thinking and more cognitive absorption and connections. In a future post, I’ll detail what I’ve been changing.
Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash